Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s recent rant regarding missile defense and arms control shows that U.S. and Russian negotiators failed to meet the December 5th deadline to sign a new arms control treaty to replace the now-expired START Treaty, not because of technical difficulties, but because of a fundamental question: what both sides see as necessary to “reset” U.S.-Russian relations.
The START follow-on negotiations were to result in a treaty reducing strategic nuclear arms that also would serve as the cornerstone of the new bilateral relationship. Putin has made it clear that he, and presumably the Russian government, oppose U.S. missile defense systems because he views Russia’s preferred relationship with the U.S. as one based on its ability to threaten the U.S. with nuclear annihilation. He would include a provision in the new treaty that effectively prohibits an undefined set of missile defense options for the U.S. Putin’s statement clearly places the ball in the Obama Administration’s court in the arms control negotiations.
The Obama Administration will have to make a decision whether Putin’s view of U.S.-Russian relations is the right one and that the U.S. deserves to be threatened by Russian nuclear forces or whether he will use the negotiations to convince Putin and the Russian government that the appropriate basis for improved U.S. and Russia relations is for both sides to adopt more defensive strategic postures. Opting for the former will improve the near-term prospects for signing the START follow-on treaty, but at the expense of missile defense. The latter will require lengthy diplomacy, but will preserve missile defense options for both the U.S. and Russia and establish a clearly more appropriate foundation for improved U.S.-Russian relations.
That President Obama would not reject the Putin vision out of hand speaks volumes about his lack of confidence in the moral standing of the United States.